Roman Numerals, Typographic Leaves and Pointing Hands: Some Notes on Their Origin, History, and Contemporary Use

By Paul McPharlin | Go to book overview

The Pointing Hand

No compendious work on the history of backfence scrawls has yet been printed. Had it been, I am sure that the section on Roman mural scribblings would have contained, among other items altogether unmentionable, at least brief mention of the pointing hand. This device seems to be a graphic necessity. Although more difficult to draw than the arrow, it is certainly a more primitive indicator of direction. The pointing hand is a gesture widely understood. It was early made into a pictograph. The precursors of Chinese ideographs were called ku-wan, literally "gesture pictures." The Maya symbols for south and west incorporated hands outstretched toward the warmth of the sun and cupped in the position of eating. An Egyptian hieroglyphic hand represented the sounds of d and t, but had no meaning as a pointer. All this is to say that the pictorial pointing hand must be as old as man; but I cannot link it definitely with antiquity.

The sign may appear in earlier manuscripts, but the first one recorded to have it is Domesday Book (1086) wherein, according to John Johnson Typographia, it is used along with crosses, daggers, carots, and other marks, to indicate in the margin passages to be amplified or emended. These hands may not, of course, be of the eleventh century.

-47-

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Roman Numerals, Typographic Leaves and Pointing Hands: Some Notes on Their Origin, History, and Contemporary Use
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • Uses of the Roman Numeral 3
  • Roman Pointing and Ivy Leaves 24
  • The Pointing Hand 47
  • Appendix - Printers' "Ivy Leaves" 77
  • Some Notes on Contributors 81
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